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Episode no. 1146

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Coming up — Anglican bishops gather in England for their once-in-a-decade meeting. But they’re still a long way from agreement on the issues that threaten their unity.

And a small-town police chief diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Plus, members of a Chinese family as they make offerings to the spirits of their ancestors.

# # #
BOB ABERNETHY: Welcome. I’m Bob Abernethy. It’s good to have you with us.

Pope Benedict XVI is in Australia for World Youth Day, presiding over religious events that have drawn 250,000 young Catholics. The 81-year-old pope also spent time with some of the country’s native animals. In his remarks, he emphasized the importance of environmental stewardship.

# # #
BOB ABERNETHY: In Spain, hundreds of religious leaders gathered for an interfaith summit organized by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. The Muslim king opened the three-day summit that included Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu leaders. He called on the world’s religions to embrace reconciliation and reject fanaticism. Observers noted that Abdullah could not convene the meeting in Saudi Arabia because of his kingdom’s restrictions on non-Muslim faiths. Still, many said his outreach was an extraordinary step toward religious harmony.

# # #
BOB ABERNETHY: Faith leaders are reacting with cautious optimism to the International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir. The court’s prosecutor has charged Bashir with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for instigating atrocities against the people of Darfur. Bashir has rejected the court’s authority and staged protests against the indictment. More than 200,000 lives are believed to have been lost in Darfur since violence broke out in 2003.

# # #
BOB ABERNETHY: Six-hundred-and-fifty bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion assembled in Canterbury, England this week for the Lambeth Conference, a three-week-long meeting that’s held just once every decade. But more than 200 other bishops are boycotting the event. The 77-million-member Communion has been threatened with schism because of longstanding divisions over homosexuality and the interpretation of Scripture. But organizers acknowledge that this Lambeth conference is not likely to end the crisis.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, and parishes here continue to wrestle with the issues on the table at Lambeth. Kim Lawton has our look at three very distinct congregations.

KIM LAWTON: Anglicans have been a contentious crowd since the tradition was founded under King Henry VIII nearly 500 years ago. Anglicanism has long stressed unity in the midst of diversity. But now, diversity may be stretching the Anglican Communion to a breaking point.

At one end of the spectrum is All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, which has been at the forefront of advocacy for more inclusion of gays and lesbians.

Reverend ED BACON (All Saints Episcopal Church, at wedding): Dearly beloved, we are gathered together by the grace of God . . .

LAWTON: When California legalized gay marriage earlier this year, congregational leaders at All Saints immediately voted to offer the rite of marriage to same-sex couples.

Rev. BACON: We believe that God’s love is not discriminatory. It’s not bigoted. There are no second class citizens. And so the graces of the church should extend to everyone, regardless of who they are.

(at wedding): If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now or forever, or else forever, hold your peace.

LAWTON: Many Anglican churches around the world, especially in Africa, Asia and South America, are strongly opposed to gay rights. The last Lambeth Conference in 1998 approved a resolution asserting that homosexual practice is quote “incompatible with Scripture.” International Anglican leaders had asked the U.S. Episcopal Church to exercise caution in moving ahead with gay issues. But Bacon says, as a priest, he must minister to the people in his pews.

Rev. BACON: By the authority of the Holy Spirit, and the state of California I pronounce that you are married.

So we have a responsibility here on the ground, at the grassroots level to move forward with justice, inclusion, love and compassion. And the bishops can talk about it, but we think the bishops will come around and see that we are exercising great pastoral responsibility.

LAWTON: All Saints also actively supports Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. Robinson’s 2003 consecration in the Diocese of New Hampshire set off a firestorm of controversy across the Global Communion. Because of the turmoil, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual head of the Communion, asked Robinson not to attend the Lambeth meeting. But Robinson has gone to Canterbury anyway to advocate for gay issues outside the official meeting.

Bishop GENE ROBINSON (Diocese of New Hampshire): I go with a greater sense of focus on gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people around the world. In an odd sort of way, not being included in the official meetings gives me that greater opportunity to focus on that.

Rev. BACON: The entire New Testament is about inclusion, about bringing more and more people in and understanding that there’s nothing God created which is inherently evil. And so the Bible itself moves toward inclusion.

LAWTON: But at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Tallahassee, Florida, Reverend Eric Dudley reads the Bible very differently. Dudley had been rector at nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church for 10 years, but was upset at what he saw as the increasingly liberal theological direction of the national denomination, especially on gay issues.

Reverend ERIC DUDLEY (St. Peter’s Anglican Church): When we moved to the place that it was no longer the occasional priest, bishop here or there, but it became the official stance of the Church itself under whose umbrella I stand as a priest, then I couldn’t do it anymore.

LAWTON: In 2005, Dudley announced he was leaving the Episcopal Church to start a new Anglican congregation. Rather than launching a lawsuit to keep the historic building, Dudley acquired an unused church building from another denomination. On the first Sunday, 800 people showed up. St. Peter’s still averages about 650 people every week and gets the help of local police for traffic and crowd control. They have numerous thriving programs, such as Vacation Bible School.

Rev. DUDLEY: I’d much rather pour my energies out into building some strong new church that’s still faithful to Anglicanism, but that’s strongly unapologetically orthodox. A church where I don’t have to be continually fighting battles for things that I think should be givens.

LAWTON: Because Dudley wanted to stay within the Anglican Communion, he placed St. Peter’s under the authority of the Anglican Church of Uganda.

Rev. DUDLEY: I think it’s wonderfully ironic that you’ve got a bunch of wealthy, white, mostly Americans who’ve found their salvation, so to speak, in a bunch of poor Africans. I mean, you know God smiles at that.

LAWTON: The Episcopal Church sees the Ugandan role as an unethical incursion into its jurisdiction. St. Peter’s bishop is John Guernsey, an American who was consecrated as a bishop for the Anglican Church of Uganda.

Archbishop HENRY OROMBI (Anglican Church of Uganda): John Guernsey has been duly consecrated as a bishop.

LAWTON: Guernsey and other American bishops for African churches have also been excluded from Lambeth, just like Gene Robinson.

LAWTON: Uganda’s Archbishop Henry Orombi and more than 200 other conservative bishops are boycotting Lambeth. They held their own gathering in Jerusalem last month and called for a new North American church body that would officially be part of the Anglican Communion, but would not be affiliated with the Episcopal Church.

Rev. DUDLEY: They’re seeking to create a fellowship of confessing Anglicans — that is those who want to be clear in their commitments to orthodox faith.

Reverend SAMUEL COLLEY-TOOTHAKER (Episcopal Church of the Epiphany): My brothers and sisters, the Lord be with you

CONGREGATION: And also with you.

Rev. COLLEY TOOTHAKER: Let us pray . . .

LAWTON: In Danville, Virginia, leaders at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany say they’ve been trying hard not to let church battles interfere with their local ministry.

Rev. COLLEY-TOOTHAKER: My personal opinions about the theological matters, which are currently plaguing the Episcopal Church, really are not so much of import if I keep my eye on the ball, which is to lead this congregation in the work that Christ is calling us to.

LAWTON: Epiphany has been in Danville since the 1800s and claims that Confederate leader Jefferson Davis is among those who’ve worshipped there. The church has struggled to maintain a strong Episcopal witness in a community hard hit by the demise of tobacco and textile industries.

Rev. COLLEY-TOOTHAKER: Mission is actually doing the work that Christ gives us to do. Because the parish is endowed and has resources, we would be able to establish an Episcopal school that is not geared solely to those privileged few who can afford the tuition. And nobody will be priced out of the education that we’re able to give here.

LAWTON: Although many mainline churches have been losing members, Epiphany has been growing.

Rev. COLLEY-TOOTHAKER: We decided that if we were going to be able to grow this church and continue to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we needed to get people into the door however we could get them through the door.

LAWTON: The pastor says many members deeply value Anglicanism’s balance between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Rev. COLLEY-TOOTHAKER: We really do try to find the middle way in that we really are a bridge between the Roman tradition and sort of the more evangelical reform tradition.

LAWTON: The congregation tries to accommodate all people, including gays and lesbians. But Colley-Toothaker admits there might be some limits.

Rev. COLLEY-TOOTHAKER: If the Episcopal Church of the United States decided that it was going to tell us that we needed to begin to bless same sex unions using the sacrament of marriage, that might be a line that I would draw in the sand.

LAWTON: Anglicans around the world hope the bishops meeting under the shadow of Canterbury’s historic cathedral will find a way to hold all these disparate points of view together. But the structure of this year’s Lambeth conference makes decisive solutions unlikely.

Bishop KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI (Episcopal Presiding Bishop at press conference): It’s a global conversation. It’s not going to legislate. It’s not going to make final decisions about anything.

LAWTON: Still, even as they move forward with their own local ministries, U.S. churches recognize those Lambeth conversations could have important implications for their futures.

Rev. BACON: My message for the bishops who are meeting in Lambeth is to open the depths of their being to the movement of the Holy Spirit that leads them into all truth, and then to have the courage of the convictions that come from listening to the Holy Spirit.

Rev. DUDLEY: The overwhelming majority of Anglicans stand where I do on these issues. Go back and look through the last several hundred years of Anglicanism and where we stand is where they stood.

Rev. COLLEY-TOOTHAKER: Throughout the history of the Church, we have always found something to fight about, and those fights generally become so raucous that they lead to schism. I believe that is not in keeping in the teaching and the modeling of ministry of Jesus Christ himself gave to us.”

LAWTON: The question for the bishops at Lambeth is whether it is still possible to hold all that diversity together. I’m Kim Lawton reporting.

# # #
BOB ABERNETHY: In Colorado, there’s going to be a proposal on the ballot in November to define a fertilized egg as a person. If approved, the so-called Human Life Amendment would change the state constitution to say that a fertilized egg should have full legal rights and protections. Analysts say the change would have profound repercussions on abortion rights, embryonic research and access to contraception.

# # #
BOB ABERNETHY: In Washington, religious leaders joined conservative politicians to call for government action to lower the price of fuel. Bishop Harry Jackson, an evangelical megachurch pastor, said the rising fuel prices have hit the poor especially hard and that Congress has a moral responsibility to help. The group called for policy changes, including more domestic oil drilling.

# # #
BOB ABERNETHY: We have a very personal story today about what happened to a man, when, at the height of his powers he discovered that he was sick: what happened to his work, his faith and his town’s faith in him. Judy Valente reports on the police chief of Lexington, Illinois.

JUDY VALENTE: For 18 years, Spencer Johansen has been the popular police chief of rural Lexington, Illinois: population, 1900.

Chief SPENCER JOHANSEN (Lexington Police Department, on patrol in car): I look around to see if anything’s out of the ordinary. You know, you grow up here all your life, you know all these streets and houses and stuff.

VALENTE: Johansen thought he’d retire here as police chief. But then …

Chief JOHANSEN: I missed a couple of court dates, nothing major, they were just minor traffic cases. But I missed them and that wasn’t like me. And then I just started having a problem with my concentration.

VALENTE: A maternal aunt of his had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her late 30s and an uncle had died of the disease in his 50s. The chief decided to undergo a series of physical and neurological tests.

Dr. SAMUEL STEFFEN (during examination): Well Spencer, how is everything going?

Chief JOHANSEN: Every doctor that I initially saw told me not to worry about it. They thought it was stress.

VALENTE: With tears in his eyes, Johansen’s family physician, Dr. Samuel Steffen, delivered the diagnosis: mild cognitive impairment. In layman’s terms: the early onset of Alzheimer’s.

About five million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. An estimated six to 10 percent are under the age of 60. Chief Johansen was only 49 at the time of his diagnosis. He was determined to continue to live a productive life.

Johansen notified town officials immediately. They decided to keep him on the job for as long as doctors say he’s still capable of performing his duties.

Mayor JOHN MOHR (Lexington, IL): There’s been no criticism of keeping Spencer on the job. There’s been a little bit of concern about carrying the gun with him and things like that. But we’re high on Spencer’s judgment and that of his doctors to tell us when he has to change the responsibilities that he’s able to perform.

Dr. DOUGLAS GRANT (Neuropsychologist, Carle Clinic) : He doesn’t meet the criteria for dementia, meaning he’s still able to work, he’s still able to drive, he’s still able to manage his finances, he’s still able to really live independently. And there hasn’t been a significant change in his general intellectual abilities.

VALENTE: From the first days after his diagnosis, Johansen began keeping what he calls a “spiritual journal,” a frank portrayal of his struggle to accept his diagnosis and hold on to his faith.

Chief JOHANSEN (reading from journal): July 18, 2007: Been really out of it lately. Don’t seem to care about much; little things getting on my nerves. I’d like to spend more time by myself — not good.

I’ve had every minister of every church in Lexington approach me and offer assistance and I turned it all away. I wanted to be angry with somebody, you know. It’s not as if I smoked four packs of cigarettes a day to get this. It was nothing that I did. And I think I took my anger out on God.

VALENTE: Johansen, who converted to Catholicism 25 years ago, quit going to Mass on Sunday. He fell into a deep depression.

Chief JOHANSEN (reading from journal): April 22, 2007: Feeling sorry for myself. Think it’s getting bad again. Wish I could end it in a way not to be a coward.

VALENTE: Trying to make sense of her father’s depression, Johansen’s 17-year-old daughter, Maggie, poured her own feelings into a poem.

MAGGIE JOHANSEN (reading poem): I don’t know how to say this: The doctor said to him, “Alzheimer’s was detected. It’s a battle we’ll try to win.” Alzheimer’s is uncommon for a man of 49. What about the other people who are starting to lose their mind? His journey is slowly ending. “I love you” is all they say. His family means the world to him. It was the saddest day.

Chief JOHANSEN: There were some times during and after Christmas that I probably thought about doing something foolish. There were times when I thought about suicide. And it got to the point where I just wanted to — I didn’t want to put my wife and kids through this. It was then that I realized that this couldn’t go on. I needed to do something.

Everyday you know, I parked in front of the Lutheran church in town. This is where I sit every morning to make sure the kids get into school safely and this is where I saw the sign, “When All Else Fails, Trust God.” It finally dawned on me that that message may be meant for me.

I got to thinking about everybody who’s tried to help me, that’s approached me about my faith –every minister in town who has said, you know, has offered to help. So many people tried to help me in their own way and I shut them out. And suddenly those faces kind of started appearing to me that morning. One would come from this direction, another from another direction.

(reading from journal): Whatever happened to me at 2:30 in the morning on January 16, 2008 changed my life. I believe in my heart that God touched me and has given me the strength to face all my fears.

VALENTE: Every day now, Johansen spends some quiet time, alone, at his parish church.

Chief JOHANSEN: I pray for a cure for this disease. But I don’t pray that I get cured, I guess. I don’t know if that makes sense. I just pray for the strength to go through for the rest of the day. And that’s been my attitude lately — I need to get through one day at a time.

Dr. GRANT (during examination): What day of the week is it?

Chief JOHANSEN: Monday.

VALENTE: Once a month, he travels to Carle Clinic in Urbana, Illinois, to undergo a series of pet scans and neurological tests that measure his mental acuity.

Dr. GRANT (during examination): Okay, now I am going to read you a list of words and when I’m finished I’d like you to tell me all the words you can remember. Hammer, screwdriver, darts, notebook, ice cream, nail, volleyball. . .

Chief JOHANSEN: Volleyball, nail, hammer, ice cream.

Dr. GRANT: These temporal regions are the first areas to be affected, so they’re going to be the first areas that start to go down.

Chief JOHANSEN: We don’t know how fast? I mean, what the next one is going to show? There’s no way to tell?

Dr GRANT: Right.

VALENTE: Doctors say it is a good sign that he is still able to work, nearly two years after his initial diagnosis.

Chief JOHANSEN: I’ve come to the conclusion now that I have to trust God. And if I don’t trust Him now you know when I’m on my deathbed it’s going to be too late to ask for His trust then.

(reading from journal): January 16, 2008: One of my fears is how I am going to die. I had a dream or a vision the next night. I was lying in bed. And I just took a deep breath and I was at peace. No pain. Just peace. I hope this was God’s way of showing me again not to worry.

VALENTE: Doctors can’t say how long it will be before Johansen’s condition worsens. But for as long as he can, Johansen intends to keep writing his journal and doing his job.

Chief JOHANSEN: (talking to restaurant owners): Okay, see you guys later. Bye.

VALENTE: For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I’m Judy Valente in Lexington, Illinois.

# # #
BOB ABERNETHY: Finally, “Belief and Practice.” We had a chance early this past spring to visit members of a Chinese family as they honored their ancestors at their graves. It is the belief of many Chinese that there is an ongoing spiritual connection between them and their forebears. They venerate them, pray to them and take gifts to their graves. Our guide was Jan Lee, a third-generation resident of Chinatown in New York.

JAN LEE: Chinatown has been described oftentimes as a village within the city. There’s a certain pride in passing on the culture and every tradition possible so that the younger generation understands where they came from. The Chinese have a belief that you don’t exist on your own, that there is this continuum.

We observe certain traditions within our household, and that includes making sure that my grandfather’s altar, and now my father’s altar in my mother’s house, has food during the holidays, for instance during the Chinese New Year.

We’ve been observing for many, many, many decades this tradition of going to the graveside and sweeping the graves and planting flowers and bringing offerings of food.

When my grandfather was planning for the future of the Lee family, he had the foresight to purchase a large family plot in Evergreen Cemetery. It had all the benefits of being not only a beautiful site, but a great place for cosmic energy — “feng shui.”

Once the candles are lit, it really signifies the connection between us as mortals and our ancestors’ spirits, and that we’re opening sort of a gateway to communicate with them. And when we light incense, we pray. It’s the time when they get to join in the feast that we bring to the cemetery. And that includes offering them wine. And that includes burning money so that they have money to spend. It’s all the idea that, by burning it, you’re bringing it to them.

We bow three times because there’s a belief that the spirit actually splits. In the Chinese belief, one of your souls will go to heaven or hell depending on your past deeds. And one is interred. But there’s also a part of the spirit that stays among us, and that’s the spirit that we call on when we need help.

Once the candles are finished, it signifies that the spirits have finished their meal and we can partake of the food that we brought.

I think everyone in my family still believes that my father’s with us. That belief comes from starting when we were very young going to cemetery and having a family altar in my family home. The connection to the ancestors is something that I think we all feel important to us, so it’s never been an idea of obligation. It’s our choice.

# # #
BOB ABERNETHY: That’s our program for now. I’m Bob Abernethy.

There’s much more on our Web site, including more on religion and politics on our “One Nation” page. Audio and video podcasts of the program are also available. Join us at pbs.org.

As we leave you, more scenes from the Pope’s visit to Australia.

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